Looking back on the AGM

  • February 09, 2024

In his address to the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Chief Justice Richard Wagner sounded a note of caution regarding the global rise of tyranny and systemic corruption as threats to the rule of law. Citing the most recent index by the World Justice Project, which for the sixth year in a row shows a majority of countries experiencing declining rule of law, he highlighted Canada’s role as a beacon of justice on the world stage.

“Despite the overall health of our legal system, we know that some challenges remain,” said the Chief Justice to the audience of over 400, emphasizing the need to safeguard the principles of democracy and judicial independence. “We must always strive to be a role model for the global community.”

Wagner also expressed concerns about access to justice for marginalized Canadians if governments don’t remedy the “persistent” lack of resources for the courts and “considerable” delays in filling judicial vacancies.

As of January 1, there were 78 vacancies in federally appointed judicial positions. Some courts have had to contend for years with vacancy rates as high as 10 or 15 percent,” he noted, adding that it isn’t rare for vacancies to go unfilled for months and even years.

“Unfilled positions on the bench escalate an already alarming situation in some courts that are facing a critical lack of human and financial resources.”

The Chief Justice added this situation does not inspire public confidence in the judicial system. “It’s important that our governments understood that our 2016 Jordan ruling is a consequence of the challenges courts face, not its cause.”

The Chief Justice thanked the CBA for its efforts to promote “justice, equality, and the rule of law at all levels of our justice system” and applauded the CBA’s work in support of legal education and professional development, “crucial in promoting a fair and effective legal system in Canada.”

He also congratulated the Canadian Bar Review on its 100th anniversary.

Echoing Chief Justice Wagner’s sentiments, CBA President John Stefaniuk spoke of the worrying threats to the rule of law and judicial independence in Canada and abroad. “The CBA speaks with one, united and powerful voice on this,” he said, adding we will not stop in our efforts “publicly as well as behind the scenes as we work with stakeholders to find practical solutions to the issue before it reaches the kinds of proportions we are seeing elsewhere.”

Stefaniuk also highlighted some of 2023’s CBA advocacy successes, including – along with the Federation of Law Societies – the constitutional challenge of new mandatory disclosure rules in the Income Tax Act on reportable transactions. The CBA was instrumental in ensuring none of the new reporting rules require the disclosure of information subject to solicitor-client privilege. There are many more accomplishments to celebrate, he said, “because in addition to being successful and accomplished legal professionals, our members are passionate and engaged.”


The Honourable Arif Virani, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada, spoke of many common objectives with the CBA, which he called “an effective and important voice for the entire legal community.” Some of those shared priorities include equal access to justice for all, fighting inequalities and racism in the criminal justice system, reinforcing our justice system and ensuring it includes jurists who reflect the population they serve. Virani added he’s looking forward to Parliament passing Bill C-40 on the establishment of an independent commission to review miscarriages of justice, which the CBA supports.

Virani commented on judicial vacancies, reiterating that 685 judges had been appointed since 2015, including 62 since he took office in late July 2023. “Please consider applying for this important role,” he told CBA members. “Help me replenish the pool of applicants with people with distinguished legal acumen who reflect the diversity of our society.”


CBA Vice-President Lynne Vicars announced that Bianca Kratt, K.C., the Board member for Alberta, had been elected as the 2024-2025 Vice-President. She is a partner at Parlee McLaws LLP in Calgary, focused on commercial, banking and real estate law and a member of the Huron-Wendat First Nation near Quebec City.

CBA Finance Committee Chair Bianca Kratt, K.C., presented her report outlining the CBA’s current financial position and to review the Audited Financial Statements for 2022-2023. Welch LLP was appointed as the auditor for the CBA for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2024.

This year’s AGM featured 13 resolutions that were debated and voted on, on subjects ranging from governance to abortion rights and the use of AI in immigration law and delivery. You can read more detailed coverage on that portion of the proceedings on CBA National.